The Coyotes were booted from the Pacific Division to the Central and have no physical address after this season.
Are they doomed to wander the desert? Or flee entirely?
The City of Glendale, Ariz., dissatisfied with its return on investment and some debts owed, on Thursday backed out of its year-to-year, joint agreement with the Coyotes at city-owned Gila River Arena. Team president Xavier Gutierrez said he would be open to renegotiating with the city, but Glendale doesn’t seem too interested, perhaps unless the price plummets.
It’s the latest chapter in a saga that began shortly after the buzz wore off from the former Winnipeg Jets’ arrival. Since 2000, the Coyotes have been among the bottom four teams in attendance every year but three: The high-water mark was 2004, when they moved from the NBA arena in downtown Phoenix to the new rink in Glendale and finished 19th. In the two seasons after that they were 22nd (in 2006) and 24th (in 2007).
Since then, woof.
Ticket sales, game-day concessions, and merchandise account for about 50 percent of annual NHL revenue, commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this year. Safe to say the Coyotes aren’t contributing much of that to the league’s coffers. Coupled with the years of subpar on-ice product, turnover in ownership and management, and stripping down of the current roster, and it’s fair to question the franchise’s viability. To that point: The Athletic reported the Coyotes received “multiple notices” from the city about unpaid bills.
Youth hockey in the area, which can always present Auston Matthews as its shining motivational example to kids with nascent NHL dreams, would suffer immensely without a team.
The 69-year-old Bettman, who has previously stated that the Glendale arrangement was untenable for the Coyotes, brought hockey to several Sun Belt locales in his tenure (29 years as commissioner as of Feb. 1). He likely wouldn’t want to relocate a team as one of the last major acts of his career.
“I’m not worried about the Coyotes,” he said during a New York radio appearance Thursday, adding that he believed the City of Glendale was playing hardball.
“There’s no secret that Alex Meruelo, who’s the owner of the Coyotes, is looking at his options to build a new arena somewhere else in greater Phoenix,” Bettman said, “and I think the City of Glendale basically said to the Coyotes, you have to sign a 20-year lease or we’re not going to renew.”
In an interview with Arizona Coyotes Insider reporter Craig Morgan, Glendale’s city manager said it was no ploy.
The Coyotes, who have made the playoffs once since reaching the 2012 Western Conference finals, have expressed a public interest in Tempe. On the east border of Phoenix, near the puck-happy campus of Arizona State and nightlife of Scottsdale, it seems like a good fit.
Gila River Arena, as of now, may be their only option. Morgan noted that the Suns, who own the Footprint Center, may not have an NHL-caliber ice plant, and owner Robert Sarver likely wouldn’t help out an organization that wants to build a nearby arena (read: more competition for concerts and other events coming to the region). No other local rinks have NHL-quality seating and amenities. ASU has its forks in the ground, conjuring up a 5,000-seat arena in Tempe. But it may not open by next October, and while its size will suit the Sun Devils, it’s well short of NHL standard.
So the howling from other cities floats throughout the Valley, as it did when the Coyotes declared bankruptcy in 2009.
Houston, the fifth-largest city in North America, would be a natural rival for Dallas. Quebec City, its expansion bid shrugged off by Bettman and Co. in 2017, has been thirsty for a team since the Nordiques left 26 years ago. Kansas City has a longstanding interest. The Toronto market is forever eager for more teams. NHL-caliber digs are waiting in each locale.
Anyone still have interest in Hartford? Seems that ship has been put in dry dock indefinitely, while the Hurricanes continue to make a buck off Whalers merchandise. The city’s last major push for a team came a decade ago, when former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin was holding rallies. The campus of the league’s new TV partner, ESPN, sits 20 miles from Hartford, but at minimum, new facilities downtown would be needed for this to work. The XL Center, nearing its 50th birthday in 2025, seats an AHL-friendly 14,750 for hockey.
The Coyotes could go back to Glendale, hat in hand, and hammer out less-favorable terms. Maybe there’s a temporary out-of-market solution while a Tempe rink is built (“ ... please welcome your 2022-23 Houston Hounds!”). Short of either, the NHL may have to wipe the dry-erase marker on its board that says “no relocations since 2011.”
Ads on jerseys coming in 2022-23
The cynical among us would say the pandemic was a convenient excuse to embrace the inevitable. Other leagues did it, so why wouldn’t the NHL? Yes, jersey ads are coming.
Beginning with the 2022-23 season, teams will be allowed to sew a patch on the chest or shoulders of jerseys for some extra revenue. No drop in the bucket, either: ESPN reported that prime real estate could be worth as much as $300 million in additional hockey-related revenue across the Original 32 clubs. Teams could make more on these TV-friendly garnishes than they do on naming rights to their arenas.
I find it amusing to think about a small local establishment, like Kowloon or Town Spa Pizza, getting a spot on the Bruins’ sweaters (Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy might vote for T. Anthony’s). The bad-news Bruins of the late ‘90s, and the post-lockout edition (2005-07), would have fit with Play It Again Sports. (For the record, I love Play It Again Sports. A necessary resource for young hockey families.)
It’ll almost surely come from one of the major existing Boston sponsors, like TD Bank, which is already on the helmets. The NHL has ruled out adult-themed and alcohol, tobacco or drug references, so don’t expect anything edgy.
As for aesthetics, a 3.5-inch-by-3-inch cut of fabric isn’t going to greatly disrupt the look of a jersey that already bears NHL and Adidas logos, particularly if they match the team colors. Collectors going for the full authenticity will want the jerseys with patches. Others can buy the sweaters sans corporate creep. None of this is too intrusive — at least, relative to the daily onslaught of marketing messages streamed into our headspaces.
Maybe there’s a greedy executive out there quietly pining for the day they can swap their club’s crest for that of a corporate monolith, but that would be anathema to hockey fans. And, most likely, the majority of NHL front office types, who want the team’s logo front and center if for no other reason than brand strength.
Even most European clubs, their jerseys and ice sheets covered in logos, haven’t replaced their crest with a corporation. That’s going Full Soccer. Never go Full Soccer.
Goalie Grosenick had sparkling debut
Should the Bruins need a third goalie not named Tuukka Rask this season, the first call would likely be to former Sharks, Predators, and Kings farmhand Troy Grosenick, who has 258 games of AHL experience and four in the NHL.
Grosenick, 31, saw action with San Jose in 2014 and Los Angeles last season. He already has a connection to a long-forgotten Bruins stopper.
In his first career start, Nov. 16, 2014, at Carolina, Grosenick submitted a 45-save shutout. That broke a 47-year record for saves in a shutout by a debuting goalie. The previous record-holder: Andre “Cannon” Gill, who blanked the Rangers on Dec. 23, 1967. Recalled from the Hershey Bears after Gerry Cheevers and Eddie Johnston were hurt, the diminutive Gill (5 feet 7 inches, 145 pounds) also learned that night the varsity would be without an injured Bobby Orr.
Gill — who died nearly three weeks after Grosenick’s smashing debut, of cancer at age 73 — made 41 saves against the Rangers, in his moment in the sun.
Grosenick, who signed with the Bruins the same day would-be No. 3 Dan Vladar was shipped to Calgary for a third-round pick, went 6½ years between NHL wins when he suited up for the Kings on March 11.
US women with Worlds of possibility
The United States entered the Women’s World Championship in Calgary trying to sort its Olympic roster and keep alive a streak of five gold medals.
The Americans, who started with a preliminary run of Switzerland (Friday), Finland (Sunday), Russia (Tuesday,) and Canada (Thursday), have won the last five titles (2013-19) contested in non-Olympic years and eight of the last nine.
This is the first major international women’s tournament since the 2019 Worlds. The 2020 Worlds were canceled and the 2021 tournament, set for Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia, in May, was postponed. The highest level of competition for many of the US (and Canadian) players last year were PWHPA exhibitions. No question US coach Joel Johnson and the brass will use this as an evaluation tournament to select the roster for a gold medal defense in Beijing in February.
Returning captains are Kendall Coyne Schofield, Briana Decker, Hilary Knight, and Lee Stecklein. Three other players to watch (note: U.S. games are on NHL Network):
After Emily Matheson (née Pfalzer) stepped away to take care of her newborn, another ex-Boston College standout, Cayla Barnes, should play a primary role on defense. She opened the tournament on the top pair with fellow Eagle Megan Keller.
The youngest of seven making their Worlds debuts, 18-year-old defender Caroline Harvey (Salem, N.H.), could figure into the defensive six-pack. Harvey is part of the new guard for a squad that has seen Megan Duggan, the Lamoreux twins, and Kacey Bellamy retire since the 2019 Worlds.
Up front, Alex Carpenter (North Reading) returns after scorching the Russian ZhHL with the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays (28-23—51 in 28 games, second in league scoring).
Owen Power, the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s draft, will head back to Michigan rather than turn pro with the Sabres. Smart move. Didn’t get much of a college experience as a freshman in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines are loaded, and Buffalo isn’t winning anything any time soon. Hingham’s Matty Beniers (No. 2, Seattle) and Kent Johnson (No. 5, Columbus) are returning to Michigan, too … Regrettably, that means no “Ooooowen Power!” call from retiring Sabres voice Rick Jeanneret, who will make his 51st season behind the microphone his last … Ben Smith, the Gloucester man who coached the US women to gold at Nagano in 1998, retired from USA Hockey. Smith, 75, was plucked from Northeastern’s men’s team to become the first full-time US women’s national team coach. He was 37-7 in IIHF and Olympic competition over 10 years, with two gold medals, six silvers, and one bronze, before moving to a team-building role. He made the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017 … Another retirement of note: Henrik Lundqvist, King of Swedish goalies and, despite the lack of Stanley Cup, a compelling Hall of Fame case. He finished 14th in goals saved above average, according to Hockey Reference. Roberto Luongo (seventh) and John Vanbiesbrouck (11th) are the only non-HOFers ahead of him … The Bruins could open the season with six Americans on defense: Charlie McAvoy (Long Beach, N.Y.), Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown), Brandon Carlo (Colorado Springs), Mike Reilly (Chanhassen, Minn.), Derek Forbort (Duluth, Minn.) and Connor Clifton (Long Branch, N.J.). Boston would be the most US-heavy lineup (11) in the league … Edmonton would be the most Canadian (14), including the league’s only all-Canada defensive unit … Florida remains confident it’ll soon work out a deal with captain Aleksander Barkov, whose $5.9 million cap hit expires next summer. Losing yet another homegrown star would be devastating for a club that finally has some hard-won sustainable success, and the bet here is he stays. But just imagine, for a moment, Barkov as Patrice Bergeron’s successor. Bartender, another one, please … The Steven Stamkos Free Agency Watch of 2016 saw reporters in several cities, notably Toronto, reading the tea leaves in advance of the Lightning captain reaching UFA status. Stamkos eventually re-upped in Tampa at $8.5 million a year through 2024. There was no drama of that kind when Stamkos recently sold his home in Tampa’s Davis Islands for $16 million. He reportedly offloaded the property (estimated value: $7.2 million) to a cash buyer because he got an offer he couldn’t refuse. Julien BriseBois would be proud … Minnesota conducted more non-Kirill Kaprizov business, signing Kevin Fiala to a one-year, prove-it deal at $5.1 million to avoid arbitration. Fiala, who has 46 goals and 101 points in 133 games with the Wild since arriving in the February 2019 trade for Mikael Granlund, might be too rich for Minnesota’s blood next time around … Nashville handed Juuse Saros (four years, $20 million) a fair deal, the same figures as Linus Ullmark in Boston (without the trade protection). Saros, who dragged a middling Predators club to the playoffs, posted a .927 save percentage (fourth in the NHL) in 35 starts. He won consecutive overtime games in a first-round, six-game series loss to Carolina, setting a franchise record with 58 saves in Game 4 … Auston Matthews will miss a big chunk of Maple Leafs training camp after having surgery on his wrist. He had a wrist injury last year, and still scored 41 goals in 52 games. His new left winger, with the departure of Zach Hyman, could be Michael Bunting. The ex-Coyote scored 10 goals in 21 games last season, shooting 26.3 percent. Feathery feeds from Mitch Marner and rebounds from Matthews could keep that shooting percentage afloat … Frölunda, the Swedish powerhouse, will drop the “Indians” nickname in use since 1995. Now just Frölunda HC, until a new logo is unveiled next year. “Frolunda Guardians” does have a ring to it … The Arizona-to-the-Central move should give Nathan MacKinnon and Kaprizov (assuming he returns) a little more highlight reel footage. It also reminds one of Quebec. The divisional switch happened because of Seattle’s arrival, which was the second round of expansion (Vegas before) that Quebec City was denied. Nothing against Arizona — a favorite trip on any chilly beat writer’s travel schedule, though the commutes are long — but everyone in Boston should want a team in Quebec City. Wonderful place, rink less than a decade old, juice for every Atlantic Division rivalry, and surefire fan support. It would be a must-go for any road-tripping New England fan … Quebec City’s rink, the Videotron Centre, is home to the QMJHL’s Remparts. Because of the pandemic, it did not this summer host Bergeron’s Pro-Am charity game, held in concert with ex-NHLer Simon Gagne, for a second year in a row. The group posted a video on Facebook of Bergeron swimming 2.32 kilometers (1.44 miles) across Lac St-Joseph, Quebec as part of an effort to raise money for the event’s charities. The captain wore a life jacket, wetsuit top, swimming cap, and goggles. Safety first.